Skyrim Interview with Todd Howard

I know, NERD TREK has become completely obsessed with Skyrim and it’s all my fault.  I’m a HUGE Elder Scrolls fan and have been following Bethesda Softworks for many years now.  The following is an interview with Skyrim creator Todd Howard, there are many clips- each is based around a different aspect of the upcoming Skyrim video game.  Finally there is an interview with Matt Carofano – Art Director of Skyrim.


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4:30 Are there going to be spears in the game?

“There are not spears in the classic spear sense. I am sorry. There currently are not.”

“Something like spears is really cool, but with where we’re putting our time with the other weapons, it just didn’t make the cut.”

5:00 Are there any other kind of hints you can give us about the directions of like the types of weapons people are going to be able to play with?

“The main thing that I can say is that, they go back to, we had X weapon types in Daggerfall, then X weapon types in Morrowind, and Oblivion had its own, and Skyrim had its own. And any time there’s something that we stop doing whether that’s spears, having a skill for that, or crossbows and things like that, we tend to each time start over. And we want to find weapon types with this game that really yield gameplay. So those skills are separate.

There’s a two-handed weapon skill, there’s a one-handed weapon skill, and there’s an archery skill. Because those really are playstyles. I’m going to use a one handed weapon and then either cast magic with my other hand, or I’m going to use a shield, or I’m going to use a two-handed weapon, where it’s going to fill both those slots, obviously (two-handed.)

Within each of these skills, there are perks. They’re perks, but they’re not like Fallout, in that each skill has its own perk tree.

Take one handed for instance. You have a one handed skill, and then you can perk that. There’s a skill tree underneath one handed. And within that there are separate perk areas for maces, and then axes, and then swords. So as opposed to having say an axe skill, that is a part of the perk tree within one handed. It gives us a better balance. You can say “Well I like one handed stuff,” and then you can start specializing as you raise that skill.”

8:40 Are you able to be a werewolf in Skyrim?

“We’re fans of that stuff as well, and we’re currently messing with all that. I don’t want to commit to, ‘here are the things you can change into and what they’re like right now.’ Not because we’re not doing it, or not attempting to. I just don’t know honestly where that’s going to end up and how deep we’re going to get into that.

We will try things, and if we don’t feel it’s helping the game, there are other areas we’d like to spend our time on in the game.”

10:38 People are curious about mounts. Are we going to see a return to mounts?

“Something we’re messing with, and we don’t know where it’s going to end up. There were things with the Oblivion horses. We liked having them. They weren’t the greatest implementation of horses. And now you see things come out like Red Dead. There are more horses in games, and we feel like just the basic implementation we did in Oblivion isn’t going to be good enough. We are currently attempting things with that, and I don’t know where it’s going to end up.”

10:45 When you were looking at the Oblivion mounts, What were the things that stood out as being kind of problems for you that you wouldn’t put into Skyrim unless you could fix?

“Mostly I would say controls and the feel that you are not in some sort of battlefield jeep. You are riding an animal. Just the feeling of doing it. But a world without them feels a little weird. We definitely want to have them. We don’t know yet what you’re going to be able to do with them and to what level.”

12:55 Are you going to be able to craft spells, potions, and other items?

“We do have crafting within each discipline now. We do have smithing, enchanting is back as a skill, and then alchemy we’re sort of treating as – it doesn’t matter that much anymore (stealth/magic/combat categories) – but it’s sort of in our stealth category now. We have a blended skill list, so alchemy is sort of the most magical of the stealth skills. And then we have lots of other things that are NOT skill based that you can craft, like cooking and things like that.

There is a lot of that, and more emphasis on it this time around.”

13:50 One thing that when I was down to see you guys at the studio was stuff related to how spells would interact with each other and that kind of thing. And I would suspect that the results of your experimentation on that would have an affect on whether you have anything like spellcrafting, right?

“Yeah, spellcrafting is a real wildcard. Something that we’ve done a lot. And there are pluses and minuses to it. We’d like to find… we have some ideas that we really like on how to solve that, and I don’t know where that’s going to go. But the thing that we DON’T like about the previous systems that we’ve done, is it becomes very “spread-sheety.” It takes the magic out of magic. You got to see the game, but your listeners haven’t. There’s a bigger emphasis on how the magic physically acts. Just a spell like fire; there are different spells for how the fire moves. Like putting down a rune that explodes when you walk over it. Or fire you can spray that lingers on the ground, like you’re spraying a wall, and you can spray the ceiling. Or fire that travels like a flamethrower out of your hands. Or a fireball that you charge up and throw and it explodes at a distance. So our main goal is to make magic feel like this arcane powerful thing. And once it goes into a spreadsheet in the game where you can just say I want something at this distance and this power, it removes the illusion of like how this stuff actually works. So we have some ideas of ways around that, but we don’t know where those are going to go yet. We do have the benefit of, we’re really, really happy with how the magic plays in the game, both visually and mechanically. And then being able to do it with both hands. There are opportunities there for combinations and things you can do without getting into the spreadsheet aspect of it. Which I do know some people like, but it does take away from the impact of the spells that you’re finding and mechanically how they work.”

16:12 Within the one-handed skill tree you’ve got these different perks for maces, and axes, and swords and so on. Within the magic system is it kind of similar, is it by school that you’re perking up, or is it individually like I’ve got fire spells, and I’m going to perk fire spells?

“Well there’s the school Destruction, so that covers like a category of spells, and then within Destruction there are perks for fire based spells. So people see we’ve removed Mysticism, but that’s just a label right? Those spells go into other skills. And then it gets deeper within those skills. The easy thing for us is to just add more skills. That’s actually easier. Because in the old games there was just a skill and a number, there wasn’t really a progression. We really want you to feel that you’re getting better in this particular skill. And perks are the main way we do that now. And I think the game right now has like 280 perks if you include the ranks. So even a character that raises all their skills to 100, and they’re playing and they’re level 50, they’ve only gotten to pick 50 perks. They’re very different characters. And a lot of the power is in the perks as opposed to the raw number of the skill. There’s still some power in the raw number of the skill, just not as much as there used to be. All that stuff has been moved into the perks.”

17:53 How are races different from one another?

“So the main decision you make in the beginning is what race you’re going to be. You no longer pick class. You basically pick what you’re going to look like, and obviously the race is a big part of that. And that comes with certain skill increases. So certain races have certain skills that are higher to start with, and then they also have either spells – depending on what race you pick – and/or racial abilities.”

19:15 On the lack of class and the new leveling system:

“You just play, and your skills go up as you play, and the higher the skill the more it affects your leveling. It’s a really, really nice, elegant system that sort of balances itself. People would play and the general pattern would be, they played for like three hours and then, ‘oh, I picked the wrong skills, I’m going to start over.’ They weren’t necessarily upset about that, but to us it’s ‘is there a way we can solve that? Is there a way we can make this better’ And we think this is it.”

20:36 Facial creation:

“There’s an all new face system we did. On the one hand you have less control than you had in Oblivion, but what you’re doing looks cool. Our joke was Oblivion would have been better if the Random button was renamed the Ugly button on the face creator. So we’ve redone that completely with really, really nice results. Something simple like a nose, we have a lot of prebuilt shapes you can pick from, and then you can adjust the size and position of that, as opposed to lots of fiddly sliders. It lets us hand craft a lot of options that you can mess with. If you just start messing around, you’re not going to end up with something that looks bad.”

21:49 What are the dragons going to be like in the game?

“If you’re a fan of fantasy you see a lot with dragons. They’ve been a part of classic fantasy that we’ve never done. So we wanted to do them in a way that they were part of the world, and put them on screen, and fight them in a way that you conjure up in your head when you read fantasy that you haven’t really seen in a game. And that’s what we’re trying to pull off, that they are these fierce beasts. They do become these kinds of boss fights, like a mix between a Big Daddy and a Helicopter in half life 2. These things that you see coming and you’re like, ‘Oh. Oh NO.’ They are really difficult to kill.”

23:15 Are they the enemies you end up fearing the most?

“Definitely. Oh yeah.”

“We had a lot of back up plans for them when we were developing the game. Because when you deal with a creature that big and its AI and how powerful it is. You know, how much can it fly, can it land, will it be able to do this? We made a little team of people to work on dragons and put some of our best people on it. They worked on it for two years. They really came out like… We got to go past the list we had and then more. We’re ecstatic with how they came out. They can dive bomb and breathe fire down a street. They can get on the ground and march around now. They can pretty much go anywhere. So we can call them and do random encounters. When they come, they generally now just work. We can throw multiples of them in a scene. They just, you know you just… like… when I get bored in the game I just summon dragons now and they can terrorize the town. It’s always cool.

There are multiple types of them. As far as riding them, I would not expect that. It’s not something I see happening. It’s kind of not how we’re approaching them, first of all.”

24:42 Jumping up on one of their backs might not get the best results.


25:10 Companion characters. That was a really fun and really cool part in Fallout. What’s going on with that?

“We are approaching it in a different way. I would not expect the deep personalities and uniqueness with a low number of companions. We are aiming for a much, much higher number of companions that you can hire or they become your friends and they come with you. The general direction is to make it a bit more dynamic, and have more people that you can decide to have come with you. And in that we sacrifice them having a lot of depth or personality or individual stories. And there still will be some like that. But that’s kind of the direction we’re headed right now. We don’t know the exact number of NPCs in the world that could become your companion, but we’re hoping it’s a big number.”

27:15 Radiant Story:

“We want to be careful to not oversell it. It’s a tool that we use to make quests. We started the game by making them all very, very random/dynamic. You do see the holes in that. It doesn’t tell a good story. Good stories are still told by good writers and we do most of our quests that way. Radiant Tool is the tool you use to make any quest. And you can make all of the roles in that quest, you can hand craft all of those roles, or you can take any part of the quest and conditionalize it. So what it allows us to do is to take parts of a quest or an activity, and conditionalize it, without having to hand script conditions.

Example: You come to town and there’s a guy who has a child that’s been kidnaped, and they’re in a dungeon nearby. We can write that as a quest template, fill out the roles saying it’s a guy in town who likes you, who has a child, and then the role for the location is a dungeon that fits this. We can pick a dungeon that you haven’t been to for some reason that’s nearby. You walk into town and the game just says ‘Oh, there’s a guy in town who likes you. We’re going to kidnap his kid who you might have met, and put him in this dungeon for some reason you didn’t go to. And that dungeon happens to be a higher level dungeon and so we think you could use a challenge right now. And the reward is going to be this other thing that your character can use.’ Doing that before was impossible. But we have that opportunity right now, and so tend to be using it. The more dynamic quests tend to be like little favor things that people ask you to do, not full blown quests. But if you were to play a quest, it’s very hard for you to tell. It’s going to seem very hand-written. You’d really have to compare notes with friends to figure out the parts that that particular quest decided to make dynamic. Because some quests have no dynamic elements, and some quests have more.”

“When we’re going to send you to do something, we can tailor that, a bit to the things you’ve done.”

30:43 Will we see factions?

“We’re doing factions. That’s definitely something we’re going to be talking about later. Not because we don’t know, but because we decided that’s a good thing to talk about later.”

“Different than what we’ve done before in what they are. But definitely we’re going to have them.”

31:25 Are there some that are returning, or it’s all new ones?

“There are some that are returning, yes.”

31:35 11.11.11. How committed are you to this number?

“We actually tend not to announce release dates until later in the process. We’re very confident about it. There’s still a lot to do in the game. But we wouldn’t have announced it if we weren’t really confident.”

32:42 Why do characters always start as a prisoner?

“It started that way in arena. We did it again in Morrowind, then Oblivion. It’s sort of become a tradition. We like this idea that there’s a little bit of conflict in the beginning with you being a prisoner, and we never say why. So you immediately in your head tell a story of why you’re in prison to yourself. I kind of like that about it. It’s part tradition, and part it lets you in your head tell a quick little story to yourself.”

34:10 What aspects of Skyrim are going to appeal to a gamer who wasn’t a fan of previous TES games but was a fan of Fallout?

“If you really, really don’t like Oblivion, I don’t know that this is suddenly going to switch you over. One of the things that Fallout 3 does well is there’s a certain tone of the world, there’s a certain uniqueness to it, it has style. Oblivion, for what it is, can be very kind of classic, traditional fantasy. There’s not a lot of unique style to the world. Whereas Skyrim I definitely think has a unique style. We got better at that, and we push it, like what is the culture of these people? So it has its own flavor. It’s definitely grittier. It’s lower tech. The world’s lived in. The ruins feel ancient and thousands of years old. We’re also careful in Skyrim of the various ages of, ‘when was this built?’ Where Oblivion everything can feel like everything in this town was built on the same day. There’s a more unique and a better flavor to the province of Skyrim and the game Skyrim than we had in Oblivion and Cyrodiil.”

36:18 Is Skyrim going to have multiple endings?

“I don’t really want to answer the ending of the game questions, yet. So I’m going to pass on that question.”

37:07 How expansive will Skyrim be? Is Skyrim sort of a comparable geography to Oblivion?

“As far as actual landmass, it’s ABOUT the size of Oblivion. It’s different in that a good portion of it is mountainous. And mountains you can’t just walk across. So they kind of inflate your game space. If you have this large mountain, getting up and through that and around that, and then the dungeons that are on mountains, you spend more time there. When you’re walking around it, to us it feels a bit bigger because of the mountains. We were really pushing to have it not just be this big snowy mountain game, so that we do have a lot of different regions. They all have a really unique look while still being a part of that province.”

38:33 Is there any particular ESRB rating that you guys are aiming for.

“We never aim for a specific rating. I’m sure it’ll be M. But we never aim for a specific rating. I would be surprised if we did not get an M. Our assumption is we’re getting an M, so we are doing the content that we think is appropriate for Skyrim. There is more violence to the combat just in how it looks. Not like Fallout violence where it gets really over the top. It’s more a realistic level of violence for what it is with guys with swords and axes and those sorts of things.”

39:38 Is there a HUD, and if not how will the health system work?

“There is a HUD. It comes and goes as needed. There is a small compass bar at the top that right now is always there for direction. Your magicka, your health, and your stamina, or other things, come up when they need to. If you’re just walking around the world and you’re full health, your health bar isn’t on the screen. As soon as someone hits you and your health drops, it pops up.”

41:02 Will there be an X64 version for PC players? High resolution textures (will they have to be modded in?) Do you have a dedicated group for the PC version?

“We work on it together. The main thing for people to know is our background is PC games. The game is authored here on PCs. That’s what we work on. A lot of the team is playing the game on PC all day. We do want the platforms to each have a really, really high level of fidelity. I personally play a lot on the Xbox. It tends to be my preferred platform. We do a lot of graphics development still FIRST on the Xbox, just because it’s smoother. And then a lot of that stuff does go over to the PC. We tend to do as much as we can as the project goes on, because we want to support as wide a range as possible. We also tend to do that stuff late, because right now we want to work on the main game and how it plays and getting the graphics fast everywhere, and then as the project gets closer to release we start supporting all those other things. You’ll definitely be able to run the PC on a much higher resolution. All of our games that we’ve done so far – Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout – the PC versions have higher res textures they ship with by default. A lot of times you don’t notice that, because when you play a console game you’re sitting six to ten feet away from the screen. Whereas on the PC, you’re sitting a foot, two feet away from the screen. Those kinds of differences in texture resolution, you don’t notice unless you’re looking at two screenshots on a computer and flipping between them. We are gonna support that stuff. I can’t say how far. But the same thing with the interface. We do a lot of PC interface stuff. There are uniquenesses [sic] to how we handle it on the PC.”

43:45 Your philosophy towards achievements and trophies. What do you think about those systems and how do you want them to work in Skyrim?

“We love them. We definitely do them with all of our games. Our general approach is to have a mix. If you look at the mix in Fallout 3 between specific quests, and leveling or collection, that kind of balance was pretty good. We have to do it differently this time because we have a lot more quests. We like to have a balance of specific quests that are important, or quest lines, and then just general gameplay stuff.”

44:52 Is there any chance that you guys are gonna do Kinect support, Move support, 3D, etc.?

“I don’t think that’s gonna happen. 3D I would be surprised. Both Kinect and Move. They’re fairly new systems as of last year. There might be something that we end up doing that we think fits, but at this point it would surprise me, because we do want to keep our focus on the main game.”

46:02 MAJOR spoiler (But one that is incredibly cool imo. Wish I hadn’t heard it. But since I did… it is awesome imo.)
When you start off with your character he doesn’t know that he’s dragonborn.



“He does find out. There’s an event that happens with a dragon, where you find out you’re dragonborn. I think for anybody listening, it won’t matter, ’cause they know.”

“The greybeards, the guys who live up on the throat of the world, who are the masters of the voice, they find out about this fairly quickly, and they shout your name. They shout Dovahkiin to the wind, and it kind of rumbles through the world. The mountains shake when they call you. And you think ‘what was that,’ and someone says ‘that was the greybeards calling you. To walk the 7,000 steps up the throat of the world to meet them.'”

“I have been promised 7,000 steps, and I am going to count them. Our world artists are amazing. We have just an amazing team, and they put so much detail in the world, so they didn’t blink when I said ‘it MUST HAVE 7,000 steps. When you look at all the stuff we have in the world, 7,000 steps obviously is not that hard.”

****END SPOILERS!!****

49:14 Explain how the leveling system works, particularly in relation to the maximum level. What your philosophy is toward that, how long can you level in the game, when does it become basically impossible to level, etc.

“We don’t code in a maximum level. There is a theoretical maximum depending on what your skills are. The one change we’ve made is that you level faster. We’ve sort of balanced Oblivion and Fallout 3 in some respects to like a 1 – 35, 1 – 30, so if people play for a long time that’s the kind of high level with creatures and whatever. This one is balanced like 1 – 50, but that isn’t longer in gameplay. You do level faster, a lot faster, especially in the beginning of the game. Because of the power in the perks, we wanted to be giving them out at a higher rate. The actual maximum depending on your particular character how it works out might be 75. I don’t really know. I’m just saying we don’t code in the maximum level. It will end up whatever it ends up.”

“(Perks being more fun) It’s the thing you’re always shooting for. Even 1 – 50 it slows down a lot as you play. If you assume there’s 200 hours of content, you can sort of figure out, ‘how often do I get to level?’ We think we can balance that with the perks. That’s what happened. We did the perks, and we figured out quickly, ‘oh, to make these work, we need to be leveling faster.’ And it is more fun.”

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About Jonathan G. Nelson

Jonathan G. Nelson is the editor-in-chief and owner of NERD TREK. He is also owner/publisher at AAW Games /, a tabletop gaming company based in Snoqualmie, WA. Connect with Jonathan via Facebook.